By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Struggling through an unprecedented semester of teaching, Hudson High School educator Amy Plackowski is also playing a small role in shepherding a coronavirus vaccine across its regulatory finish line.
Plackowski has volunteered for a phase three large scale trial of a vaccine from drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech. She’s one of just over 40,000 other volunteers in this position. And she’s committed to demystifying this entire process by simply talking about her experience.
“People don’t have a recognition that the people involved in these trials are regular everyday people,” Plackowski said in a recent interview. “…We’re all doing it because we believe in it.”
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine started testing back in May. It expanded to an initial round of large scale trials in June before then adding a further batch of volunteers in September. That’s when Plackowski got involved, hearing an advertisement for a program based at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester.
She got her first injection in September. Three weeks later, she headed back to Worcester for a second dose.
Plackowski does not know if she actually received the vaccine. She could have very well been given a placebo shot as a part of the trial format.
Either way, she’s now in the process of regularly reporting any side effects or coronavirus symptoms through an app on her phone, and through a half dozen appointments with doctors over the next two years.
“We’ve all been feeling really helpless and wishing there was a resolution and wanting to speed that along,” Plackowski said of COVID-19 and her motivation to join this trial. “…I just kind of thought this would be some small way that I could have a part in doing something.”
The pandemic has taken a personal toll. Plackowski has two young sons. They’re able to follow safety precautions. But one was recently exposed to the virus and was awaiting a COVID test result as of Nov. 15. Both, like so many, have also just felt the emotional and social strain of months in quarantine.
“I see my kids’ elementary school years slipping away and being consumed by this,” Plackowski said.
It’s unclear when exactly a COVID-19 vaccine will become available. But there are promising signs.
Plackowski’s Pfizer trial recently made global headlines, reporting a 90 percent effectiveness rate and outlining a timeline that could have emergency doses available to medical professionals and other high risk individuals by the end of the year.
From there, Pfizer says it could produce over a billion doses through 2021 even as that vaccine faces questions about its shelf stability during mass production and global transport.
Plackowski sees these concerns but leaves discussions on them to the professionals handling authorizations and scientific plans.
She’s more focused, these days, about problems with politicization and possible mass reluctance to actually take a vaccine once it’s available.
As friends ask her, with hints of concern, whether her trial is safe, Plackowski assures them that drug makers are following tried and true testing procedures even as some in politics push to speed up and bypass steps.
She answers questions in person.
She posts personal accounts on Facebook.
Across her conversations on this topic, she offers a simple message.
“I’m just your friendly neighborhood vaccine guinea pig,” she says.